Friday, 18 February 2011
We've all done it. Blurted out "that's so gay," when what we meant to say was "that's so stupid." It has become common these days to use the word gay to indicate negativity in general, with no connection at all to the word's actual meanings of homosexuality or happiness.
I used the expression often in high school, like most people. As a senior, however, I was accepted into a sex ed program that used peer-to-peer instruction, meaning the senior participants presented workshops to underclassmen on a variety of topics. Besides the obvious (birth control, STIs, etc), we gave one workshop on homophobia reduction.
To teach these, it was obviously necessary for the faculty advisers to the program to make sure that we knew what we were talking about. So I spent a lot of time learning about what it's like to be a homosexual in our society today (not to imply that I understand the experience completely). It really opened my eyes to how much problems and harassment gay men and women are often forced to deal with. Not only do they have to worry about being discriminated against legally in many states, coming out to friends and family, and being ridiculed (particularly as adolescents), but now a word that describes - and identifies - them has become synonymous with "stupid."
It may not seem like a big deal, but it really is to some people. I think that this expression, which is far too common among teens in this country, definitely influences the subconscious homophobia of a good deal of people.
On the other hand, plenty of gay people I know (generally the ones who are very open, unreserved, and outspoken about their sexuality and other topics) have said "that is so gay" to me. Maybe it's like the "n-word." It's their word, and it becomes a problem when other people start to say it.
But the difference is that the "n-word," though just as hateful and cruel, almost always carries a racial connotation, whereas "gay" seems to have largely shed its sexual connotation. Even "retarded," as a term that also describes stupid and that is also offensive to many people, still is closely related to what it technically means.
That's what I think the problem with people saying things are "gay" is. It's just plain and simply being misused.
I think it's okay to call things "gay" as long as the implication is somehow related to a matter of sexuality. For example, my gay friend at work told me I was "really gay" for liking Abba. Obviously he didn't actually mean that I like men, but he was making fun of the fact that I like an effeminate disco band that is the polar opposite of masculinity. I think that it would be just as acceptable for a straight friend to make this joke, because he is not actually implying that gayness is the equivalent of stupidity or that homosexuality is what's wrong with the world.
Obviously, there is a limit to this. Like making racist jokes, there is a line that, when crossed, sees crude humor become blatant hatefulness.
How do you feel about people using the term "gay?" Any gay individuals care to share how they feel about it? Is it offensive or funny, and how can context change the way you regard the term?